174,000 tonnes of plastic packaging lost annually in Kenyan environment

A new report finds that 260,000 tonnes of plastic packaging enters Kenya each year, and of that an estimated 174,000 tonnes are left in the environment or dumped illegally.

The report, ‘Plastic Packaging Waste Flow in Kenya’ – commissioned by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency and delivered by Eunomia Research and Consulting in partnership with Capital Operating Partners – also found that around 48,000 tonnes are sent to landfill and 37,000 tonnes are sent for recycling. These figures result in an estimated recycling rate of 15 per cent – placing Kenya at a similar level to countries in the Western Balkans, where materials for recycling are mainly collected by waste pickers.

The report comes almost a year after Kenya introduced a ban on carrier bags in August of last year after research revealed that around 100 million plastic bags were handed out annually in supermarkets alone, with many ending up in the natural environment. It followed in the footsteps of other African countries such as Rwanda, Mauritania and Eritrea and was seen as one of the toughest in the world, with culprits found selling or producing bags facing a potential fine of up to four million Kenya shillings (£30,000) or up to four years in jail.

174,000 tonnes of plastic packaging lost annually in Kenyan environment

For Eunomia’s report, because no accurate data was available from existing sources researchers had to meet with industry stakeholders, including Kenyan plastics recycling companies, in order to carry out surveys identifying how much packaging makes it onto the market annually and how much of that is recycled.

The report makes estimates based on the consumption of plastic packaging using national statistics for manufacturing, trade and production, as well as relying on responses to their surveys and questionnaires. Because plastic has a short life-cycle, it is generally accepted that annual consumption is equal to annual waste generation.

Principal Consultant at Eunomia and report author Tim Elliott said: “Kenya is making good progress when it comes to tackling plastic pollution. Having already introduced a carrier bag ban, the country is now taking steps to understand how to manage other types of plastic as a useful resource. It’s looking first to understand what’s out there, before then starting to improve the management of what’s there.

“There are still, however, massive quantities of unmanaged waste, with huge numbers of illegal waste sites, and widespread littering, so there’s lots more to be done. Now could be the time to raise awareness around other problematic single use plastics and to explore the role extended producer responsibility can play in holding businesses accountable for managing packaging waste, and improving its recyclability.

“We hope this research is a good step towards Kenya developing a credible strategy towards managing plastics and other wastes.”

One of the key reasons for the loss of waste into the environment in Kenya, as with many developing countries, is the lack of waste management infrastructure and a lack of education regarding waste disposal. Indeed, research suggests that there are approximately three billion people in the world lacking access to decent waste management services.

One of the more influential charities seeking to improve waste management is WasteAid UK, an independent charity with partners in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon that has been developing the concept of waste livelihoods centres, where communities are shown replicable techniques for reducing waste and adopting a more circular approach to waste. This approach helps individuals and groups set up their own waste reprocessing businesses in order to create value chains for materials and encouraging people to separate materials at source.

In March this year, the charity also called for the UK Government to increase overseas spending on waste management projects after releasing a report with the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM), which found that plastic in the world’s oceans is inextricably linked to poor waste management in developing countries. Indeed, research from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in October 2017 revealed that 88 to 92 per cent of all plastic entering the marine environment comes from ten rivers in Africa and Asia.

The report ‘Plastic Packaging Waste Flow in Kenya’ can be read in full on Eunomia’s website.